The romance with theatre is centuries old, a global phenomenon and a cultural expression of humankind. The journey can be traced back to ancient Greece, with a distinct form of theatrical performance during the post-Russian Revolution. Over the years, theatre went on to become a comment on history, society, politics, religion, commerce, love and beyond.
West Bengal’s Romance With Theatre
Miles away in West Bengal during the pre-independence period, the roots of Bengali theatre fortified. Bengali theatres played a pivotal role to arouse dislike for the British Raj. The city was once the capital of the country and went on to evolve over the years in various art forms. Kolkata, which was later euphemized as the city of joy continues to have a deep kinship with theatre. People are theatrically inclined in terms of watching plays and also making a living out of the art form. Booking a ticket for a theatre performance is just one click away from the internet keeping up with the times.
Bengali theatre has been used as a tool of social awareness too with the group theatre gaining popularity, which became the mouthpiece of society. Bengali theatre has produced some best actors who went on to rule the silver screen, like eminent personalities Utpal Dutt, Sombhu Mitra, Rudraprasad Sengupta and Soumitra Chatterjee. They are responsible for where Bengali theatre stands today. Even in the times of Netflix and thousands of films releasing every year, the world of theatre is still standing strong and the millennials contribute towards the art form. Gadget freaks too are seen having an interest in running theatres group.
Kaushik Sen, veteran thespian says, “The good thing about theatre is the direct communication. Digital media is no doubt a powerful medium, but not as powerful as human resources. Theatre happens right in front of you. You feel connected to the emotions depicted.”
“Another reason why I think theatre is surviving is the concept of collectivity. Shooting for a film is done for 4-6 months approximately, but in theatre, we work with each other for years. We almost know each other inside-out. Therefore, theatre provides you with space where you don’t feel alone.” Adds Sen. He believes this might be the case for films as well, but there are grades in a film and are divided into various classes, especially in the Indian context. Theatre, on the other hand, does not have the grading system and instead, a group survives together.
Debesh Chattopadhyay, another eminent thespian says theatre is an age-old medium and in the context of Indian history culture developed much before 500 years ago, culture developed even before where people learnt how to act and write scripts. Many years have passed by and theatre is still a powerful medium. “The one special thing about theatre is that every time you watch the same play, you get a new performance. It is not the same as the old one. In films, it doesn’t change. The performance remains the same. Maybe this is why you understand a good actor through theatre as one has to deliver the same actions and emotions every time he is performing on stage.” Says Debesh Chattopadhyay.
“It is not recorded, which is why it is very lively. Therefore, no matter how many new Netflix show gets released, this art will evolve and come out only more powerful.” Adds Chattopadhyay.
Theatre And Society
In the past, the theatre has been a revolutionary weapon for any social or political issue. It has been a strong voice of society with a reflection of existing times and it’s people. Stage performances do not always have to be loud. Giving out messages and communicating with the audience without actually talking is a scope this platform provides and therefore has a great impact. For some, it is a life where audiences live the show.
Theatre in the city is not just about middle-aged and elderly people. The youth are equally interested with numerous new theatre groups in the city, exclusively run by youngsters despite being mobile-savvy and being glued to their mobile phones. However, when they go up on stage after months of practice, theatre becomes their communication tool, with the virtual world of SMSes and social media taking a backseat with communication on stage.
Promit Ganguly, a commerce student who runs theatre groups says, theatre is an escape from reality. “I love acting and respect the profession which is why I thought of engaging in something productive and started this group with my friends. To talk about challenges, they are funding and time. None of us are doing this to earn our living. It is something that we love. Our studies are the main focus and therefore theatre becomes secondary. It is disheartening that not one of us has made this our priority.” Says Ganguly.
Future Of Theatre
Theatre is evolving and its popularity is intact in the city among theatre enthusiasts. Bengali theatre is still an integral part of the culture in the city with the youth taking forward the legacy of watching theatre but not many taking up theatre as a sole priority to earn a livelihood. Can we still expect shows to go housefull in future? Can emerging theatre groups of the city be able to uphold the integrity and dignity of the art? The city always has surprises. It is the city that is deeply connected to its roots and therefore it is the city with a soul and the city can hope to keep it’s connect alive with its people and the culture of theatre.